Federation of American Scientists Case Studies in Dual Use Biological Research Module 2.0: Poliovirus Case Study
Topic: Discussion Subtopic: Where to Go for More Information

The Pace and Proliferation of Biological Technologies

The development of powerful laboratory tools is enabling ever more sophisticated measurement of biology at the molecular level.  Beyond its own experimental utility, every new measurement technique creates a new mode of interaction with biological systems.  Moreover, new measurement techniques can swiftly become means to manipulate biological systems.  Estimating the pace of improvement of representative technologies is one way to illustrate the rate at which our ability to interact with and manipulate biological systems is changing. For example, chemically synthesized DNA fragments, or oligonucleotides, can be used in DNA computation, in the fabrication of gene expression arrays (gene chips'), and to make larger constructs for genetic manipulation.  Mail order oligonucleotides were with much fanfare recently used to build a functional poliovirus genome from constituent molecules for the first time.  The rate at which DNA synthesis capacity is changing is thus a measure of the improvement in our ability to manipulate biological systems and biological information.  Similarly, improvements in DNA sequencing capabilities are a measure of our ability to proofread the results of DNA synthesis.

Carlson, R. (2003) The Pace and Proliferation of Biological Technologies. Biosecurity and Bioterrorism, 1: 203-214.]

Biotechnology:  Impact on Biological Warfare and Biodefense

Most important, biotechnology will significantly affect global proliferation of agents of concern in a manner that will be difficult to monitor or regulate.  Modern DNA sequencing technology permits absolute characterization of any organisms genetic material.  To date, genomes of many organisms, including humans, fruit flies, nematodes, bacteria, and many viruses, have been determined.  All this information is stored in digital files that are commonly accessible in a manner that is currently not attributable over the Internet.  Coupled with advances in DNA synthesis technology, it is becoming ever more possible to reconstruct viruses from genomic digital data files, a process that is becoming increasingly recognized as 'digital proliferation.'  The recent production of infectious poliovirus from synthetic DNA is merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to potential implications of this technology toward proliferation of agents of concern or, for that matter, gene sequences that can be assembled to create ABW [advanced biological warfare] agents.(8)   

[Petro, et. al., (2003) Biotechnology:Impact on Biological Warfare and Biodefense. Biosecurity and Bioterrorism, 1: 161-168.]


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